Russia's best-known gay activist says he was kidnapped from a Moscow airport by state security agents and held for over two days, in what appears to be the latest and most startling attempt to put pressure on the country's beleaguered gay community.
Nikolai Alexeyev says he was about to board a plane to Geneva on Wednesday last week, but was stopped by airport security after passing through passport control. He says he was taken to a small office where officials told Swiss Airlines representatives to take his luggage off the plane.
He then says he was taken out of the airport by four men in plainclothes, and driven to a police station about 25 miles away.
Once there, the men insulted him using homophobic language, and demanded that he withdraw a case on gay rights in Russia, currently being heard by the European Court of Human Rights, Mr Alexeyev told The Independent.
The next night he was driven to Tula, over 100 miles away from Moscow. "They applied a lot of psychological pressure," he said. "They told me I had to withdraw the European court case. I also think I might have been drugged as I was feeling very disoriented."
During his detention, friends received text messages saying he was in Belarus and planned to apply for political asylum there, and that he was withdrawing the case from the European court. Mr Alexeyev says his phone was confiscated and other people sent the texts.
Moscow's Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has in the past called gays "satanic" and has repeatedly banned gay pride parades or protests. When the activists do meet to protest, they are usually arrested by riot police.
"This was similar to our gay pride protest we held last year, when I was arrested and held at the police station, but at least then people knew where I was," said Mr Alexeyev. "This time nobody knew my location. It was really scary and I haven't been able to sleep properly since."
The activist said that his detention could be to do with an ongoing battle between Mr Luzhkov and the Kremlin, and could have been organised either by people who wanted to discredit Mr Luzhkov further, or by those who wanted to promote the Moscow mayor. Homosexuality is frowned upon in Russia and the Moscow mayor's stance has a great deal of public support.
Mr Alexeyev says he plans to complain to Swiss Airlines and the Russian authorities over the episode.Reuse content